Attachment, also known as attachment bond, refers to the emotional connection you form as an infant to your primary caregiver – typically your parents. Research has shown that the emotional bond we share with our adolescent caregivers has a direct impact on the ways in which we develop bonds in emotionally intimate relationships as adults. This phenomenon can be best describe using Attachment theory.
A brief overview of Attachment theory
Developed in the 1950’s by British psychiatrist John Bowlby and American psychologist Mary Ainsworth, attachment theory suggests that the quality of the bond you experience in your very first relationship as an infant directly impacts the ways in which you will respond to intimacy throughout your life. If your primary caregiver was warm, nurturing, and able to accurately interpret your changing emotional and physical needs as an infant, then you likely developed a secure attachment. As an adult this typically translates to the development of trust, well-rounded self-confidence, the ability to healthily navigate conflict and respond positively to intimacy in relationships. If your primary caregiver was harsh, frightening, and inconsistent or neglectful in interpreting your changing emotional and physical needs as an infant, then you likely developed an insecure attachment. As an adult this typically translates to difficulty in understanding your own and others feelings and emotions, and a limited ability in connecting with others and maintaining healthy relationships.
The attachment styles
Throughout their studies, Bowlby and Ainsworth identified four main attachment styles,
secure, avoidant, anxious, and fearful-avoidant.
A secure attachment, as previously mentioned, refers to an individual’s ability to form healthy attachments with others. A securely attached person is able to trust in others and return trust, comfortably love, and accept love, and tend to form bonds with ease. They are able to openly communicate to resolve conflicts and depend on others without becoming completely dependent. Securely attached adults are confidently able to be away from their partners without becoming panicked.
Roughly 56% of adults fall within this category.
Avoidant attachment refers to a type of insecure attachment associated with a fear of intimacy. An avoidantly attached person tend to experience difficulty trusting others and forming close bond in their relationships. They tend to remain emotionally distant from their partners, preferring to hold onto their independence and reliance on themselves.
Roughly 25% of adults fall within this category.
Anxious attachment refers to a type of insecure attachment associated with a fear of abandonment. An anxiously attached person tends to be significantly insecure in their relationships, frequently worrying their partner will leave them. They regularly seek validation from their partners fearing they are losing interest, this behaviour is often associated with the ‘clingy’ and ‘needy’ nature this attachment style fosters.
Roughly 19% of adults fall within this category.
Fearful-avoidant attachment refers to a type of insecure attachment viewed as a combination of both avoidant and anxious attachment styles. Fearfully attached people tend to experience a deep sense of distrust in others, despite a dire craving for close connections and affection. They often develop maladaptive personal boundaries and a poor understanding of what a healthy intimate relationship looks like. While this attachment style is rare, it is associated with increased psychological and relational risks; including difficulty regulating emotions and increased risk of violence in relationships.
Understanding your attachment style can provide you with potential clues as to why you may experience difficulties in your close relationships. Perhaps you engage in some self-destructive behaviours? Or maybe you struggle to form close bonds with others? Regardless of your attachment style, it is important to know that you remain capable of change throughout your life. When identifying your attachment style, it is important to acknowledge your ability to challenge your insecurities and learn more secure ways of relating and connecting with others, allowing you to develop healthier, more fulfilling relationships.